Tod Lindberg

Protesters without a cause

Posted by Tod Lindberg on July 24th, 2001

The Washington Times

It’s hard to spend even a little time on the web site of the Genoa Social Forum (GSF), the group “coordinating” (if that’s the word) the protests at the recent G-8 meeting of industrialized nations in Genoa, Italy, without taking away the impression that demonstrating against globalization would be a fun way to spend your summer vacation. Ah, to be 21 again, and to have grown up in a world in which war and strife are running at an all-time record low, prosperity at an all-time high, such that one can now quite reasonably place “the environment” at the top of the international agenda.

It is indeed sad that one protestor was shot dead by Italian police. He surely deserved better. Yet far from serving as an indication that globalization has now become a life-or-death struggle for the protestors against it and the governments that defend it, the death of Carlo Giuliani signified nearly the opposite. Embarrassed Italian authorities have launched a massive investigation into what went wrong – to determine, that is, whether this was a crime or a blunder. There is no possibility the authorities will conclude that this was an appropriate outcome, let alone that it should be taken as a stern warning to future protestors.

As for the thousands of youths who descended on Genoa, protested, perhaps got tear-gassed or arrested, then went home without incident, any inclination on their part to take this death as an indication of the stakes and seriousness of the issue is simple self-dramatization. The chance of getting killed at an anti-globalization protest in a G-8 nation is probably about on a par with the chance of dying on a roller coaster, and awareness of the infinitesimal possibility is probably part of the thrill in both cases.

Otherwise, have a good time. For example, the GSF web site had advice both useful and witty on accommodations: “Please note that the local authorities and a media campaign have discouraged many landlords from accepting demonstrators as guests. Journalists are more easily accepted (get it?).”

And from the memorandum offering a little advice to protestors about their rights and what to expect from the police, some guidance on decorum: “An indecent behavoiur sic in public areas or in front of other people is punishable by a prison sentence, flagrant arrest is not permitted. Like it happened in Goteborg where to welcome the ‘Big Of The World’ people showed their bottom, there is a certain tollerence sic for such an offence.”

And what, finally, did the protestors want? Here is a passage from the manifesto of the GSF: “G8: Otto Grandi” (”G8: Eight Bigs”): “Woman and man of the third millennium, must defend their existence and the survival of all the planet. Woman and man, must fight against that irresponsible people who are destroying: animals, climate. The conscious humanity has the task to combat against the major industries that reduce workers as slaves. G8 represent all these great problems. We, the conscious humanity, are constructing a new different world.”

They are? I submit that the problem here is not entirely in the translation from the Italian. “Defend their existence”? “Fight”? “Combat”? “A new different world”? This is the revolution and resistance of the third millennium? It’s an insult to the honor of real revolutionaries and resistance figures to speak of them and the Genoa protestors in the same breath. This is just fantasy, a kind of end-of-history pseudopolitics that is entirely recreational in character.

It is possible, I suppose, that the anti-globalization protests will eventually cohere into something serious – more serious, that is, than temporarily disrupting the champagne toasts of men and women wearing $20,000 watches at meetings at which no actual globalizing is taking place.

It might even be interesting to watch Western governments try to cope with a genuine revolutionary movement. European governments, especially, are out of the habit of thinking about politics and government in terms of life-and-death struggles for survival, enemies of the state, and the like.

But this is not the revolution. Indeed, I note that on the web site of the British organization “Globalise Resistance,” which I found through a link on the web site of the Socialist Workers Party, that the protestors have already taken to issuing press releases claiming victory: “Protests like this have already made a difference. International drugs sic companies took the South African government to court to try and stop them using cheap AIDS drugs. International protest forced them to call off the court case. The threat of protest meant that the World Bank cancelled its meeting in Barcelona in June 2001.”

If the nature of this revoluation is such that the preceding constitutes “a difference,” let’s out with the rest of their demands; maybe everyone can be happy. One prominent theme in Genoa was Third World debt forgiveness. In truth, that sounds more radical than it is. As a political matter, debt forgiveness isn’t all that far-fetched. Of course, those holding the debt would first have to conclude that they could afford to drop it. As well they might, because they are, indeed, quite rich. In other words, we have a global protest movement whose fondest wish is already in the hands of the accountants.

Of course, I wish for no revolutionaries actually worthy of the name. We are uniquely blessed to possess a politics in which the struggle is between suing HMOs in state courts vs. federal courts. And in truth, we don’t have to respond to the mere trappings of protest from the protest-tourists just because there was a time when protest was serious.